Teaching boundaries is a crucial part of preparing and protecting children against racism. This is because they teach kids to recognise when their physical or emotional wellbeing is being threatened and provide them with permission and tools for doing something about it.
It can be tempting as caregivers to encourage children of colour to prioritise being ‘good’ or ‘polite’ in the face of everyday microaggressions they encounter, in an attempt to somehow protect them against racialised accusations of being ‘sassy’ or ‘rude’ for example. But this approach communicates to kids that they don’t deserve to be treated with respect and ultimately leaves them more vulnerable to suffering racist abuse in silence as they get older.
Boundaries give children the tools to stand up and protect themselves in the face of racist comments or actions. When children know what their boundaries are, they are better equipped to communicate their discomfort or dissatisfaction in a clear and assertive way, and to seek help where needed. This enables them to set limits and assert their right to be treated fairly and respectfully in situations where this is not happening.
Here are some tips for teaching your kids how to set boundaries:
Tip #1 - Explain what boundaries are
Start by talking to your child about what boundaries are and why they're important. Use age-appropriate language and examples that your child can relate to.
Tip #2 - Help your child to identify their boundaries
Ask questions like "How do you feel when someone touches your hair without asking?" or "What could you say if someone did that?". When they are very young, you may need to identify some boundaries for them.
Tip #3 - Role-play different scenarios
Teach your child how to communicate their boundaries clearly and powerfully. Role-play different scenarios with your child and practice saying "no", "stop" and "I'm not comfortable with that" in a firm way. You can get as creative as you like with this!
Tip #4 - Create space for their "NO" in public
Help your child understand that it's okay to say "no" and to prioritise their own needs and feelings. Back them when they do this in public, even if it feels socially awkward for you or other adults. This lets them know that it’s important to stand up for themselves and they have your permission to do so.
Tip #5 - Model boundaries yourself
Model saying “no” and communicating boundaries to other adults yourself. Showing is ALWAYS more powerful than telling! You can then explain to your child what was not OK for you and that you set a boundary.
Tip #6 - Start young and practice
If you use simple language, you can start to teach your child about boundaries when they are young. Doing so can help normalise setting boundaries from the very start. This Boundaries Song song (search on Youtube) is great for toddlers and provides a fun, catchy way to practice together!
Teaching your child to set boundaries helps them to develop a sense of self-respect and self-worth. They learn that their needs and feelings matter and that they deserve to be treated with respect. This helps give them the tools to identify and interrupt any harmful behaviours, such as racism, directed towards them.
By equipping them with these skills, you're helping to develop their self-esteem and set them up for success many areas of their lives. Crucially for this work, you are helping equip them for any bias they are likely to encounter.